Happiness and Human Flourishing with Laurie Santos and Arthur C. Brooks (podcast)
This discussion about human happiness features two of the world’s foremost researchers on the subject: Dr. Laurie Santos and Dr. Arthur C. Brooks. Santos hosts The Happiness Lab, a podcast “that will forever alter the way you think about happiness.” She’s also a Professor of Psychology at Yale University and teacher of one of the most popular classes in Yale history: The Happiness Class, which tries to give students the keys to happiness and satisfaction. Dr. Brooks is a musician turned economist, Harvard professor, social scientist, prolific bestselling author, and columnist at The Atlantic.
In this conversation, each of the researchers shares what they see as the “ingredients” to a flourishing life. Santos and Brooks agree that a sense of meaning and purpose is essential to human happiness. Neither Brooks nor Santos ties happiness and flourishing to material comfort or to personal achievement. Rather, they emphasize that the investment we make in relationships with others, and in the relationship we have with ourselves, are the key factors encouraging well-being. To Brooks, “The main dishes at the happiness meal are faith, family, friends, and work. And what these things all have in common is love. Love for the divine, love for family, love through friendship.”
Santos suggests misconceptions about where we're looking for our sense of meaning may be why happiness eludes so many. “The happiness boost that you get from the perfect grade, from winning the lottery or from getting the perfect job - those happiness boosts are pretty short-lived unless they come with other things that give you purpose and meaning in life,” she observes. “Research shows that if you’re engaging in practices that are helping other people, that can lead to your own personal joy and therefore your own personal flourishing.” Loneliness or feeling disconnected takes a toll on physical health. “Our well-being really affects our physical health," Santos shares. “It affects our immune function, it affects whether our heart is under stress. But our mental health also seems to affect our performance. These things are really intertwined in ways we don’t expect.”
Brooks also acknowledges interconnectivity as an important contributor towards flourishing. “There is no society that has ever existed or ever will that’s flourishing in which the individuals are not. And this is a mistake that we make again and again and over and over all throughout history, where leaders think that you can get the best, most flourishing society when people are afraid or people are oppressed or people are living in poverty, and it’s just not true,” says Brooks. He offers the image of an aspen grove as a metaphor for interdependence—“an individual flourishing aspen tree requires that the root system, which is common to all of the aspens in a stand, be healthy...The biggest mistake that government officials make is to think that we can have a good society where individuals are not flourishing. The biggest mistake that individuals make is to think that I can be fine when the rest of my sisters and brothers are not.”
- Listening is a source of happiness that the two researchers mention. Santos reminds us: “the people around us are troves of information, cool stories, bits of wisdom, joy for us—the joy that it would spark to connect with people.” Brooks agrees, and sees a direct correlation between humility, listening, and a sense of well-being.
- A misconception about happiness is that it only includes positive emotions. “Addressing how negative emotions fit into a flourishing life is a really important question,” clarifies Santos, because “if you look at what it means to have a well-rounded life, it’s a life where you get through lots of challenges, not a life that’s perfectly even-keeled. It’s one that has its ups and downs, but one in which you feel like you’ve grown from those challenges or you’ve made it through, you surfed those emotions." Santos says, “One recipe for a flourishing life involves coming up with strategies to navigate negative emotions...The situations we face or the circumstances that befall us in life don’t have as much of a clear impact on our well-being as we think...It’s about our reaction to these kinds of events.”
- Santos points to “having a love of learning, having empathic support for other people, having a zest for life, spirituality, bravery, and temperance,” as keys to well-being. Brooks borrows a powerful and short definition of happiness: “George Valiant, who ran a 80-year longitudinal study of graduates of Harvard University paired up with people that didn’t go to college and from all different walks of life and demographics. He looked at 80 years of data, and he said, I can sum up this entire study with five words, Happiness is love. Full stop.”
Read the transcript from the interview conducted by journalist Richard Sergay, presented by podcast producer Tavia Gilbert. Featuring: Dr. Arthur C. Brooks, Harvard professor, bestselling author, and “How To Build A Life” columnist at The Atlantic; Dr. Laurie Santos, Professor of Psychology at Yale University and host of the Happiness Lab.
Built upon the award-winning video series of the same name, Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” podcast features stories of new scientific research on human flourishing that translate discoveries into practical tools. Bringing a mix of curiosity, compassion, and creativity, journalist Richard Sergay and host Tavia Gilbert shine a spotlight on the human impact at the heart of cutting-edge social and scientific research projects supported by TWCF.